Dear General Director! / Dear OECD representative members! / Dear Professors! /Dear Organisers of the conference!
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!
„It never occurred to me that there was going to be any stumbling block. Not that I had the answer, but [I had] the joy of going at it. When you have that joy, you do the right experiments. You let the material tell you where to go, and it tells you at every step what the next has to be because you're integrating with an overall brand new pattern in mind.” – said Barbara McClintock American scientist, when asked how she could have worked for two years without knowing the outcome.
She was the first American woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983 for her work on the cytogenetics of maize. She theorized that genes are transposable - can move around - on and between chromosomes.
Drought tolerance, resistance to disease, or the speed of metabolism and growth. These are characteristics of plants and microbes, which can all be improved through the utilisation of genome editing. Furthermore, we could also mention countless medical applications: with the right ethical control in place, numerous genetic diseases that are caused by only one mutation could be treated. Genome editing provides us with the possibility to successfully create proteins previously never before produced by bacteria or yeast but very much applicable in human medical science or the food industry.
This technology, called precision breeding, is different from creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in that it can improve the living organisms characteristics without introducing a foreign gene from another species. That is to say, the genetic material of the organism is alterable the same way as text is edited in a word processor.
The method is widely applied in numerous domestic university, academy and industrial laboratories during basic research. It is vital that this new knowledge is later included in educational materials and included in the curriculum.
Let me mention a further example regarding the successful application of genome editing. An international research group has produced the reference-allergy map of bread wheat and by doing so they have identified the exact number of genes in certain protein families and their chromosome positions responsible for generating celiac disease and wheat allergies. Three of the researchers who took part in the discovery are from the MTA Agricultural Research Center, and we are very proud of them.
In unison with declaration made by EASAC, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences had accepted a resolution in December 2017, stating that genome editing is essentially different from GMO-producing technologies, considering that when performing genome editing the planned DNA alteration can be made the same way as it occurs in nature, with much more precision than before hence reducing the non-desired consequences to a minimum.
Following the recommendations made by EASAC, scientific viewpoints confirm that genome editing should not be considered a GMO-producing technology by domestic authorities, hence the application of such methods would not be considered unconstitutional.
The United States and China have already taken the necessary legal and administrative steps and set up regulations that provide the required legal background in order to apply the technology. We think it is crucial that this question also be discussed in a wider circle and include experts in the field who are pertinent to the issue. By doing so, we could provide the necessary background for Hungary and the EU to ensure so we do not lag behind in the race within international research and innovation.
The CRISPR/Cas9 method is the most widely used genome editing technique. The aim of the present conference titled „CRISPRing - A New Beginning for the Genetic Improvement of Plants and Microbes” is to discuss and address the opportunities and social challenges this presents.
Between the 3rd and the 5th of September, 130 experts from 20 different countries, young and internationally renowned researchers, government officials and experts are all present here at the Academy to discuss and deliver lectures regarding the issue at hand during 4 scientific sections. As already stated in the beginning of my speech through the words of Barbara McClintock I sincerely hope all of you researchers find the joy in your research even if at present you cannot see the direct results or success that delivers from it.
I furthermore trust that the international conference starting later on in the day will also yield many great results and will help us address the numerous legal/administrative, scientific and other uncertainties still facing the problem at hand.
At the end of the conference, on the third day after the closing session we will be holding a press conference with the participation of Ervin Balázs, the general director of the MTA Agricultural Research Center and László Sági, the organiser of this conference, and a senior research associate at the Agricultural Institute. We hope that we will able to report on many successes and results of the conference. I would like to say thank you to all the international participants and professors for attending and holding sessions, and also to the organisers for their great work and effort.